In 2021, wide receiver Marquez Callaway saw an opportunity and took advantage.
As a member of the New Orleans Saints, he watched star wideout Michael Thomas miss the entire season due to an ankle injury, and former head coach Sean Payton needed another pass catcher he could rely on.
Callaway stepped up. Then he recorded a team-best 698 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 46 receptions in 17 games (11 starts).
Two years later in Denver, Callaway finds himself in a similar situation with the same coach. Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick suffered a season-ending torn Achilles, and speedster K.J. Hamler was waived with a non-football illness designation, providing Callaway a chance to carve out a role.
“I’m an outsider coming in and just trying to (find) my way,” said Callaway, who is entering his fourth season.
At 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds, Callaway is a big target who can make big plays. He averaged a career-best 15.2 yards per reception in 2021. He and former New Orleans wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey were brought in because of their familiarity with Payton’s offense.
Still, Payton made it clear both players have plenty to prove.
“I’m waiting to see something from those guys,” Payton said. “I’m expecting to see a little bit more.”
Callaway, an undrafted rookie in 2020, said Denver’s offense is similar to what he was used to in New Orleans.
He saw his numbers decline last year after Payton stepped away. He only recorded 158 receiving yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions, with New Orleans relying more on rookie Chris Olave (1,042 receiving yards).
Callaway believed stepping in for Thomas played a part in his career season in 2021. With Denver needing other receivers to step up outside of starters Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, he hopes he can separate himself from the competition by doing the same again.
“It’s a big opportunity for a bunch of us,” Callaway said. “I hope I’m one of them that can fill in those spots.”
Among the other wide receivers fighting for a roster spot is Kendall Hinton. The third-year wideout has totaled 486 yards and a touchdown in two seasons but is best known for being the Broncos’ emergency quarterback during the 2020 Covid season — ironically against Payton’s Saints.
Payton, who praised Hinton’s fluidity and change-of-direction skills, said this is an important camp for him. He will have an opportunity to prove he can be a slot receiver in the coach’s offense.
“He does have some football instincts, and he is smart,” Payton said.
Meinerz backs away from belly
Right guard Quinn Meinerz is entering Year Three and still proudly shows his bulging gut during practices. Despite that being his trademark, Meinerz is ready to be known for more outside his belly.
“This is going on Year Three, and I wish we stop talking about the belly,” Meinerz said. “I’m just doing my thing and trying to play football and get better.”
Ware’s national anthem
Payton didn’t know what to expect when former Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware stepped onto the field to perform the national anthem at Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
“When he started, I thought, ‘Man, where’s this going to go?’” Payton said.
But as Ware sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Payton was impressed by the 9-time Pro Bowler’s vocals.
“I thought he did a good job,” Payton said. “I think it looked like it was going to be short, but then at the end, all of a sudden, it got long. He’s impressive, and he still looks like he can play.”
Ware will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday after a decorated 12-year NFL career. He played nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and three in Denver, helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
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